It may take a while to figure out exactly what led Rupert Murdoch and his son to fire their biggest star, Tucker Carlson.
Some people close to the network suggested the cause was redacted messages revealed in the Dominion lawsuit that insulted his bosses. Others pointed to sexist language that could have fueled a harassment lawsuit by a former producer.
Regardless of the reason, the result for the Republican Party is clear: After a long interregnum that began with the ouster of Roger Ailes in 2016, the Murdochs are back in control of the GOP’s most important institution.
Ailes’ ouster was not widely lamented. He was removed amid grotesque allegations of sexual abuse, paranoia, and of pervasive sexism. He had built a great political and commercial operation that Republicans admired as an alternative to a hostile press and that Democrats saw as the ugliest right-wing attack machine ever created.
But Ailes was a tough leader who left no doubts about who was in charge of the network, or what he wanted. In 2005, he clashed with Lachlan Murdoch — and won, with Lachlan moving back to Australia. In his day, Ailes — not O’Reilly or Van Susteren or Hannity or Colmes — was the one who could make politicians and break them. They made pilgrimages to 1211 Sixth Avenue to curry his favor. I once saw Paul Ryan, between his Vice Presidential candidacy and speakerhood, nodding along soberly to one of Ailes’ more paranoid riffs, flattering the old man.
With Ailes’ departure, the center of power moved out of Manhattan. Rupert Murdoch promoted a favorite, Tucker Carlson. And as Carlson took off, influence shifted to rural Maine and coastal Florida, where Carlson picked his own favorites to be esoteric leaders of the new populism, from Tulsi Gabbard to J.D. Vance to Viktor Orban.
Carlson did an entirely different kind of power brokering. He wasn’t interested in helping the Republican Party decide, much less helping it win. He was feeding the anger and alienation of viewers who wanted to burn the whole thing down. He directed their anger at Republican politicians who crossed him, and elected Republicans set their policy by his broadcasts to avoid his wrath.
Carlson was, in a way, the Donald Trump of Fox. His replacement — Brian Kilmeade, Jesse Watters, Pete Hegseth, perhaps someone further afield like Clay Travis — will likely be cast as the Ron DeSantis. A guy (unless, perhaps, Gabbard?) who channels the same anger, but channels it constructively, for the good of the party and of the Murdochs, as long as those things align. More Sean Hannity, less Glenn Beck.
Republican politicians may even stop reading the on-air tea leaves a bit, and go back to kissing the ring of newly-empowered executives like CEO Suzanne Scott, who had been the subject of years of derision from her celebrity subordinates.
The post-Tucker Fox may not be a totally faithful party organ. It will be tempted to chase its audience into delusion, as it did with the voting machine conspiracies that prompted the Dominion settlement and an ongoing lawsuit from Smartmatic. Murdoch may look for a deal to betray the GOP in exchange for FCC approval or some other commercial advantage, as he has before.
But Carlson’s departure makes Rupert Murdoch’s promise to turn Trump into a “non-person” a little more enforceable. It’ll make his pledges, also in the Dominion emails, to help Republican candidates down the ballot a little more plausible. And elected Republicans can go back to seeing Fox as a powerful, reliable ally.
Room for Disagreement
Some media observers believe the dynamic between the network and its audience will inevitably create a new Carlson, and that the next Fox News star ”will be worse” as David Graham writes in The Atlantic.